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Scott Nadelson’s Favorite Books of 2011

Scott Nadelson is the author of three story collections: Aftermath, published by Hawthorne Books in September 2011; The Cantor’s Daughter, winner of the Samuel Goldberg & Sons Fiction Prize for Emerging Jewish Writers and the Reform Judaism Fiction Prize; and Saving Stanley: The Brickman Stories, winner of the Oregon Book Award for short fiction and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award. He teaches creative writing at Willamette University.

The Return by Roberto Bolaño. Like a lot of people, I can’t get enough of Bolaño, and I’m excited every time a new book is translated into English, particularly his shorter works. This is the second published collection of the Chilean master’s stories, and like the previous one, the amazing Last Evenings on Earth, these stories are strange and haunting. But they’re funny, too, full of a mischievous wit that critics don’t often give Bolaño credit for. What I love about his work above all is that even the most seemingly casual, offhand tale takes us to unexpected places, to the dark center of his characters’ fears and desires.

The Professor by Terry Castle. Castle is a rare breed, a literary critic who turns the sharp lens of her scrutiny to include herself in the wide scope of her cultural investigations. These essays are a personal journey into the world of art, literature, and music, and what makes them most exciting is Castle’s exuberant, irreverent voice. Some of them are laugh-out-loud funny, including one that features a dinner party at Susan Sontag’s apartment. Others are devastating; my favorite essay in the collection, “My Heroin Christmas,” is an exploration of the life and work of the jazz great Art Pepper and his connection to Castle’s challenging California childhood.

Requiem for the Orchard by Oliver de la Paz. I don’t read as much poetry as I used to—not nearly as much as I’d like—but this collection really knocked me out. De la Paz is a Northwest poet; he grew up in Ontario, Oregon, and the poems in this collection explore his native landscape in the voice of a speaker caught between hating the hometown he’s escaped and mourning its loss. The poems are elegant elegies to childhood, to former selves, to a changing world. Their images are so vivid they stick in your mind weeks after you’ve put the book down. It’s a testament to a poet’s skill when he can turn teenagers cruising small town streets into the most unusual, evocative ritual you’ve ever encountered.

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